Crete subscribes to the bigger is better school of thought. Not only is it the largest of the Greek Islands, but it’s the 5th biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea – Corsica pips it to the 4th place post by just a few hundred acres.
Crete’s super-size means it’s got 650 miles of coastline to go around. The beaches in the Lassithi area, to the east of the island, are annexes to the cosmopolitan towns of Agios Nikolaos and Elounda. Here, sunbathers can mix stints on the sunbed with shopping sprees and long lunches in the squares. Further west, the Chania area teams Blue Flag beaches with an historical old town. The 12-kilometre-plus swathes of sand in the Rethymnon area are covered with the footprints of families, while the beaches in the Heraklion area are the staging areas and recovery spots for nights on the tiles.
South-west of Crete’s capital town, you’ll find the gigantic man-made caves sheltering Matala Beach’s golden sands. Inhabited by “flower children” from all over the world in the 60s and 70s and dating back to the Roman times, these aren’t the only archaeological treasure you’ll discover here. Put on your snorkels and explore the fantastic Roman-era remains found underwater too! Head north-east from here for a visit to Crete’s best place for mythology-lovers: the Palace of Knossos - or the palace of the Minotaur, according to Greek mythology. Stroll around the remains of royal underground rooms, intricate pillars and colourful wall paintings, taking you back to 1400 BC.
Head to the southern tip and soak up the sun on Elafonisi Beach’s pink sands. Drenched by the Libyan Sea’s warm, shallow waters, its soft beach got its peculiar colour from thousands of years of corals crumbling naturally into sand-like grains. Known as the “Greek Caribbean”, the transparent waters here are definitely worth the sunny drive up and downhill. If you find yourself on the northern tip, don’t miss out on visiting Crete’s number one attraction: Vai’s Blue Flag beach. Shaded by Europe’s largest natural palm-tree forest, its golden sands offer another exotic beach spot, complete with windsurfing and group scuba diving.
Discover the West
Crete’s western corner offers up some fantastic history and scenery. And this day trip is great for taking it all in. Your first stop is the World War II cemetery at Souda Bay. With its green lawns edging the bay’s shores, this poignant place is home to over 1,500 graves of British and Commonwealth soldiers who died here during the 1941 Battle of Crete. After visiting the nearby grave of Crete’s national hero, Eleftherios Venizelos, you’ll then continue on to Chania. Set around an old harbour and threaded with cobbled lanes, it’s one of Crete most beautiful harbour towns. After a guided tour, you’ll get the chance for a spot of shopping, perhaps snapping up leather goods along the town’s famous ‘Leather Lane’. Before the trips ends you'll drive to Lake Kournas - Crete's biggest lake. Here you'll have a bit of time to relax and take in the the views, before heading back to base.
Eating and Drinking
Crete is known for using fresh, local produce in their delicious island delicacies: Pure olive oil, sweet-vine tomatoes and a hint of garlic make up the base for most of these. Cretan Plaki, freshly caught fish baked with tomatoes and a lemony parsley sauce is a classic speciality. Shrimp saganaki (hot shrimps baked in cheese) is best enjoyed with a glass of the grappa-like Cretan raki. Try the traditional crunchy filo parcels - tyropites - bursting with chunks of feta cheese and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Or, the Sfakianopita, a crepe-like, pan-fried pie filled with creamy Myzithra cheese and served with a spoonful of pure Cretan thyme honey.